Saturday, December 31, 2016

New and Improved

New and Improved
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

-- Isaiah 43:19

You finally bought that new car. And it drives great. In fact, it's even better than you expected. But only a few days later you see a slick TV commercial for the 2017 model. The styling is better, there's more horsepower and it has bells and whistles that weren't available on your vehicle. Suddenly, your shiny pride and joy has lost its luster.

It's inevitable. Buy a feature-packed smartphone, tablet computer or other tech-filled device, and 2017rest assured that a new-and-improved version is right around the corner. Televisions exemplify this principle. It was only a few years ago that expensive Sony Trinitrons had the best picture quality. But today's ultra-high definition flat-screens deliver amazing, life-like images at just a fraction of the price.

There's nothing wrong with the TV you bought a few years ago. Its picture and sound quality haven't let you down. But once you've seen one of those new UHD sets, you're spoiled for good. It's hard to go back because things have been taken to the next level.

Marketing promotes the latest and greatest and what's new and improved. And we expect such messages from advertising agencies and big-box retailers. But did you know that God also uses this same concept when it comes to our faith? First and foremost, God wants us to upgrade our lives by accepting his Son as our personal Lord and Savior. And once we take that life-changing step, our amazing journey begins. But becoming a fully-developed Christ-follower is a process. God doesn't just turn his back on us and wait until we die to take us home. Instead, he wants us to become new and improved along the trip.

How can that happen? One way is by joining a gathering of fellow believers (sometimes called a "small group" or "gel group") that meets in homes, coffee shops or other venues at scheduled times aside from Sunday church worship services. Sharing our joys, troubles, issues--and even doubts--with other believers strengthens the experience. And meeting regularly with them provides more opportunities for faith enrichment. It's in such settings that we encourage one another, do good for each other and study God's message.

2017 is upon us. So are you ready for something that's new and improved? Today's the day to trade in that basic-cable spiritual journey for 500 channels of ultra-high definition faith! 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Package Deal

"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

-- Luke 11:13

For many folks, receiving and opening presents is the highlight of their Christmas morning. But giving to others is also satisfying--especially when the gift is significant or Gifthas a story behind it. So imagine how you would feel if you bought a particularly expensive gift while overseas, waited patiently while it passed through customs and then paid extra to ship it back home. Then later you discovered that the recipient had never even bothered to open the box!

God has also gone to extreme lengths to offer us a costly, precious gift that we can never afford and don't deserve: total forgiveness of our sins plus salvation through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. But as with any other gift, it's worthless unless we unwrap the package and accept its contents. This involves:
  • Accepting it with gratitude (because we didn't pay for it)
  • Accepting it with humility (because we could never afford it)
  • Accepting it with joy (because God chose us when we didn't deserve it)
"In the Scriptures God says, 'When the time came, I listened to you, and when you needed help, I came to save you,'" writes the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. "That time has come. This is the day for you to be saved."

Christmas is almost here. But you don't have to wait until December 25 to open a priceless gift that has your name written all over it. In fact, the Giver invites you to start untying the bows and shredding the wrapping paper--right now!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Special Delivery

Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

-- Psalm 80:3

Long before FedEx, email and Facebook, there was Special Delivery.

Between 1885 and 1997, the U.S. Postal ServiceSpecial Delivery3 offered this premium option, which involved a letter's delivery from the local post office branch directly to the recipient--rather than through the mail carrier's normal route. And Special Delivery postage was costly. That's because it called for a dedicated courier--sometimes on bicycle--to hand-deliver the letter to ensure that its important message reached the addressee. 

What was so special about Special Delivery? 

Today we live in an age of instant messaging and Twitter. We can take a smartphone from our pocket and Skype almost anyone in the world at any time. But back in the day before jet airplanes and the Internet erased the miles between New York and California, Special Delivery was the way to quickly spread the word about the big stuff: that special life-altering news about marriage, birth, death or even a job offer. 

As Christ-followers known collectively as The Church, we also have an important message that requires special delivery. Ours is the Gospel, which translated from Greek means good news. And what is this good news that distinguishes us from everyone else on Earth? It's that God's own son--Jesus--has paid the high price for all of our failures and shortcomings by dying on a cross in our place. The result is that everyone who accepts Jesus' free gift of salvation becomes a new creation ("born again") in God's eyes. Our faith in Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior wipes the slate clean, enables us to live our lives anew and have an eternal future with our Creator. 

Now that IS Good News! And Christ-followers are called to be its Special Delivery couriers. But how can we do that?

The most obvious way is to deliver the message through our worship services and personal interactions with non-believers. But we're also to spread the word by being Jesus' hands and feet on earth while we wait for his return, or that day when he calls us back home (whichever comes first). Either way, God wants us to help prepare his kingdom by making the most of the gifts and talents that he's given us. We're to serve others by following Christ's example: 

"Make your light shine," Jesus explains, "so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven." 

It's not about us. It's instead about Jesus and the promise of new life through him. So let's turn our faith into action and deliver this Good News by shining a light upon a dark world that's so much in need of his guidance, truth and love. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Seek First

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

-- Matthew 2:1-2

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness," Jesus advises us through Matthew's Gospel," and all these things will be given to you as well."

When we seek something--or someone--we need to know what--or whom--we're looking for. Christ-followers on their life-long spiritual journey look toward Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And every day, they seek to know him better and do God's will with purpose and vision.

If you're a Christ-follower, no one has to Majitell you that this odyssey can be rough at times. But let's consider the original Christ-followers, those who 2,000 years ago traveled countless miles through deserts and rugged terrain--just to meet Jesus in person.

They were called the Magi, but you might know them better as the Wise Men or the Three Kings. It's thought that they were astrologers from Babylon (ancient Iraq), who were familiar with the Old Testament prophesies about the Jewish people's long-awaited Messiah. In any event, they one evening recognized a very special star in the nighttime sky. It was a sign that was both breathtaking and unmistakable. And the Magi would soon follow it at all costs to gaze upon and worship the King of Kings.

The second chapter of Matthew's Gospel reveals that the Wise Men lived up to their name. Moreover, this scripture still holds lessons for modern-day Christ-followers like you and me. We learn first that following God can be dangerous and demanding. Our winding spiritual pathway is full of hairpin turns and steep hills rather than long, smooth stretches of superhighway. To reach their destination, the Magi chose the road-less-traveled rather than the direct route. So let's ask ourselves: How often throughout the day do we choose the easy way out rather than doing the difficult (but right) thing?

Their example also reassures us that as Christ-followers, we will find Jesus if we search for him diligently. The Wise Men recognized the Christ-child's star from far away. And they stayed on the path until they reached their goal.

It was a worthy lesson 20 centuries ago, and it remains so for us today. Let's set our sights upon Jesus and open our eyes, mind and heart to God's will for our lives. It's then that we'll navigate that narrow, winding road with fellow Christ-followers until we reach the Promised Land that's also our eternal home.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Light of the World

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world,
but men loved darkness instead of light because
their deeds were evil.

-- John 3:19

Grade-schoolers from previous generations knew Christopher Columbus as the adventurer who "sailed the ocean blue and discovered America in 1492." Although that's inaccurate history, Columbus was indeed one of the earliest and most important European explorers of what became known as the New World. And rather than making just one transatlantic voyage, he actually completed four.   

That final trip nearly cost Columbus and Lighthousehis crew their lives. In February 1504 they landed in Jamaica--but they soon encountered hostile natives. Even if Columbus could talk his way out of a fight, the expedition also lacked sufficient food and supplies. The situation was gloomy. What the brave explorers needed was a light at the end of the tunnel.

That light turned out to be more than a figure of speech. While studying his almanac Columbus discovered that a total lunar eclipse would occur in the next three days. The Italian navigator then told the natives that his God was angry because they had stopped giving supplies to his crew. Columbus warned them that unless the shipments resumed, God would reveal his displeasure by swallowing up the moon.

It's likely that the Indians laughed at Columbus' threat. But sure enough--just as the almanac predicted--the full moon appeared, but without its lower edge! As the minutes passed and the sky grew dark, the moon took on a startling, blood-red appearance. The spectacle terrified the natives, who begged Columbus to intercede with God on their behalf. Columbus agreed to try, and he returned to his ship to "speak" with The Almighty. This conference, however, was actually a ruse to gain time for tracking the eclipse's progress. At just the right moment, Columbus informed the natives that they had been forgiven and that the moon would be restored.

You can guess the rest. The full moon soon began to shine its bright light on the balmy Caribbean island. Filled with gratitude for escaping their supposed demise, the natives ran to bring provisions to Columbus and his crew. The crafty European explorers were saved. And within a few months, they departed for home.

When we fast-forward to the 21st Century, it's easy for us to judge the natives for their reaction to the eclipse. But are we really so different today? Everyone--even the most devoted Christ-follower--exhibits episodes of spiritual darkness from time to time. For example, how often do we utter cutting words toward our spouse and children, cut off other drivers on the roadway or maybe even fudge a bit on our taxes? The point is that we all fall short of God's perfect standards. And that's why we must always let the Light into our lives to drive out those things that should never see the light of day!

That Light is Jesus Christ. He invites you and me to follow him on our faith-journey toward his Kingdom--and all the while reflecting his radiance on those who still live in darkness:

"I chose you to bring justice, and I am here at your side," the Savior explains through the Book of Isaiah. "I selected and sent you to bring light and my promise of hope to the nations." 

Are you ready to help light the way?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Future Shock

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
but only the Father.

-- Matthew 24:36

With Thanksgiving now behind us, a special December event is right around the corner.

No, we don't mean Christmas. Instead it's that day when The National Enquirer publishes its list of predictions for 2017. According to, this much-anticipated annual issue is one of the most successful for the infamous checkout-line tabloid. Why? Let's consider some of The Enquirer's previous prophecies:
  • Good Morning America hostess Joan Lunden will become engaged to NBA star Shaquille O'Neal.
  • Nuclear missiles will be used to break up a giant asteroid found to be hurtling toward Earth.
  • O.J. Simpson will become a minister after confessing during testimony in a civil suit that he killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
The National Enquirer's predictions are fun to read, but its accuracy is way off the mark. On the Futureother hand, the prophecies found throughout the Bible are remarkably precise. For example, God promised in the Old Testament that the city of Tyre would be destroyed because of its harsh treatment of Israel. This seemed unlikely because of Tyre's impregnable fortifications. However, the armies of Alexander the Great indeed leveled the city. God also promised to one day re-gather his scattered people from around the globe. For centuries this made no sense because Israel had long been erased from the map. But in a miraculous series of events, the State of Israel was proclaimed shortly after World War II. And thousands of Jews came--and continue to arrive to this day--from distant nations to claim citizenship in their ancestral homeland.

J. Barton Payne's Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy lists more than 1,800 other promises from God in Scripture. And no doubt the Creator's greatest was fulfilled--again, as predicted centuries earlier--through the birth of the world's Savior in an obscure outpost of the Roman Empire. It was then that God came to Earth to live among his people in the person of Jesus. And the Bible's remarkable prophecies don't end there. It's in the Old Testament's Book of Daniel and the New Testament's Book of Revelation that we can read about world events that are unfolding today before our eyes.

In all fairness to The National Enquirer, one or two of their predictions actually have come true, and some of their legitimate cover stories have scooped the so-called Mainstream Media. But its record is still dismal when compared with the Bible, which was inspired by our Creator, who--unlike mankind--already knows the future. Let's consider these fulfilled words of prophesy from the Book of Jeremiah:

"When 70 years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." 

What does the future hold for us in these uncertain times? We won't find the answer when The National Enquirer hits the newsstands in December. Instead, the truth is as close as our nearest Bible.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

In God We Trust

I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.

-- Judges 6:9

Here's one for you history buffs and Trivial Pursuit champions: 

What's the official motto of the United States?

Stumped? Chances are that you'll find the answer in your wallet or between your sofa cushions. For more than 140 years, American coins--and later paper money--have featured the inscription PennyIn God We Trust. The U.S. Treasury's website reveals that in 1861 a Pennsylvania minister recommended to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase that the nation's coins "recognize Almighty God in some form." Chase agreed and instructed the director of the Philadelphia Mint to prepare an appropriate motto.

"No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense," wrote Chase. "The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins."

In God We Trust made its first appearance on the two-cent coin in 1864. How ironic that "Godless" money should declare such an important reminder about the real source of our security. But if we're really honest with ourselves, shouldn't the motto read In GOLD We Trust? After all, when life get tough, it's only natural to depend on paychecks, investments and possessions rather than the One who enables us to make a living. But reliance on our career and the stock market is never wise, particularly in these days of economic, social and political upheaval.

It's an unsettling fact: our bank account is no defense against life's hard realities. Illnesses strike, relationships fail and that which once seemed solid turns to dust in our hands. What we desperately need is something--or Someone--who's utterly dependable, unchangeable and trustworthy.

Jesus paints a vivid picture of this universal quest through his story about a foolish man who built his house on shifting sands. When the storm struck, the rains came and the winds blew with fury. It's no surprise that the flimsy structure collapsed. But a wise man, in comparison, built his house on a foundation of solid rock. So when the winds howled and the storm clouds boiled overhead, that house withstood even the heaviest downpour.

This leads us to an obvious question: Are we counting on our money to save us when life happens? If so, let's switch our confidence to God: the One who knew everything about us before we were even born.

"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust," we read in Psalms, "who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods."
It's an eternal truth that we can take to the bank!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Pride and Prejudice

Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father.

-- 1 John 2:16

According to Proverbs 16:18, "Pride comes before disaster, and arrogance before a fall." An excellent illustration of this truth comes from the business world. You've probably heard of Microsoft Word, the popular word-processing software found on millions of personal computers and other devices. But what about WordPerfect

Back in the 1980s and early '90s WordPerfect was the dominant word processor until Microsoft introduced its game-changing Windows 95 operating system. WordPerfect, which operated on the old DOS operating system, suddenly became obsolete. And although there were subsequent Windows-based versions of the software, there were also compatibility issues. Microsoft Word eventually overthrew the once-invincible WordPerfect. And in 1996, Norvell--WordPerfect's owner--sold WordPerfect for only 10% of what it had paid just two years earlier.  

The resulting multi-million-dollar loss was, to say Pridethe least, a disturbing reality check for Norvell. Its management of WordPerfect and the employees who created it is a textbook example of blind corporate pride and arrogance. And in much the same way, Christ-followers must also understand that pride can cause untold loss and damage if they overlook it and take their situations for granted.

At pride's root is our love of the world's values rather than our devotion to God. And pride happens to be a disease with some nasty side effects. One symptom is farsightedness. That's because we tend to see it in others but not in ourselves. Our heads then grow and our minds shrink. And eventually, we reach the point where we actually think we're strong and smart enough to do it all--and all while forgetting that God is the only true power and source of our successes. We become arrogant, vain, stubborn and defensive. And we may even develop a strange sense of satisfaction when others (often our closest friends) face difficulties or tragedies in their lives.

These painful symptoms can last for days or even years. But we'll eventually reach the point where God lets us crumble and fall flat after some unforeseen situation or circumstance. It's only when we're struggling helplessly in the debris that we finally regain our senses and return to our Creator.

Like the common cold, we're all bound to catch the pride bug every once in a while. So what's the best way to battle the illness once it's set in? First, the remedy doesn't call for adopting an artificially low self-esteem or a terminal woe-is-me attitude. Instead, we'll heal by replacing deceptive self-confidence with reliable Christ-confidence. The prescription is to always put God first in our lives and remember that we can do nothing without him. Always give God the credit for your blessings and successes. Help others through their struggles. And then remember that God chooses and uses humble people to do great things in the world.

The Bible sums it all up with some solid advice: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Conflict of Interest

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

-- Matthew 6:24

What comes to mind when you hear the term conflict of interest? Maybe it's a politician who sponsors legislation without revealing that he or she would gain financially from its passage. Or perhaps it's a prosecutor who's trying a case against a relative.

According to a paper published in the Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organizational Studies, such double-dealing extends well beyond the Washington Beltway and the courtroom. In fact, conflicts of interest are all around us--from investment banks to accounting firms to the Pentagon to the media. And it's a costly problem. For example, the consulting firm Marsh & McClennan once lost nearly $12 billion dollars in just a few days after New York's attorney general announced his investigation into the firm's alleged conflict of interest involving price fixing and collusion!

With so much at stake, what's evident Conflict of Interestis the importance of eliminating even the appearance of impropriety in politics, the legal system and the business world. But how about conflicts of interest involving something that's much more important: our spiritual life?

As Christ-followers, we've accepted God's invitation to meet our every need. That covers deeply intimate issues involving our significance, happiness, value and self-worth. And let's not forget our money and possessions. Deep down, too many of us depend on the size of our bank accounts, 401Ks and stock portfolios for security. We struggle for years to build our nest eggs. But even if we make it to the top by the world's standards, this supposed victory turns out to be a worthless idol that gains us nothing once we leave this life.

It's an ancient dilemma. We read in the Old Testament that King Solomon--once the richest and wisest man in the world--had his own problems with divided spiritual loyalties. Rather than depending on God and following his word, Solomon decided to pursue a life of pleasure by accumulating hundreds of wives and concubines. His other futile ventures involved possessions, knowledge and achievements. And what did Solomon learn after his time straying from his Creator?

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."

How about you? Are there conflicts of interest when it comes to your relationships, money and possessions? The fact is that what we do with each paycheck and how we treat others are tests of how we use God's blessings. And as Jesus reminds us, we will one day be rewarded with the opportunity to manage many things. But first, we need to demonstrate that we're faithful with just a few. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

On the Job

Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.

-- Proverbs 22:9

Earlier this year, posted an article about job satisfaction in America. The piece featured a list of occupations based on employee-generated workplace reviews compiled by online jobs website CareerBliss. Its rankings considered corporate culture, work environment, compensation, growth opportunities and several other factors. And if you believe its findings, the happiest employees around happen to be recruiters. The article also revealed high satisfaction levels among research assistants and full stack developers (a jack-of-all-trades in information technology).

Who are the least satisfied folks on the job? WorkApparently merchandisers, security officers and sales account managers.

According to the old saying, you'll never work a day in your life if you love what you do for a living. That's when a run-of-the-mill job becomes a passion. But whether you're thrilled with your career or simply putting in the hours for a paycheck, the Bible has some words of wisdom that put things into perspective:

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men..."

That means whether you're the CEO of an international corporation or a 9-to-5 ditch-digger, you should do your job for God's glory. Moreover, Christ-followers need to consider the workplace as much a place of worship on weekdays as church is on Sundays. And we must also keep the end in mind. Because once we pass into eternity, job titles and salaries will be worthless. Rich or poor, famous or obscure, we'll all have to account for what we did in our lifetimes with the gifts and talents our Creator gave us.

The world's message is that money, position and upward mobility equal job satisfaction and a successful career--and that a successful career equates to a successful life. But the world has it backwards. No matter how hard we work, there's no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Everything we have--our money, possessions, family and health--is due to God's generosity. He gives it freely. And he can take it away without notice.

God's definition of success comes as a surprise to many. So instead of living self-centered work-lives on the fast track to stock options and a corner office, our motivation should revolve around being his hands and feet in the home, community and workplace. It's our faithfulness to God that's the real measure of success. And with the end always in mind, it's how we should live both on and off the clock.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Rock

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

-- Revelation 21-24

It was a place of suffering known to this day as The Rock.

It's Alcatraz, the infamous maximum-security prison situated in the midst of San Francisco Bay. Originally a pre-Civil War-era military outpost and later a military prison, Alcatraz became the last stop for society's worst-of-the-worst when it re-opened in 1934 as an escape-proof penitentiary.

The Rock's ultra-strict code of discipline Alcatrazhelped the facility earn its nickname of Hellcatraz. In its notorious "D" block, prisoners lived in 4' x' 8' cells and were allowed out just once per week for a 10-minute shower. "Harsher punishments," reports the Legends of America website, included "solitary confinement, in total darkness, for days without any release, or confinement in the dreaded steel boxes."

Alcatraz finally closed its doors in 1963. But today, there are still millions of people suffering through a different type of solitary confinement: loneliness. Even in our crowded nation of more than 300 million residents, too many people are on their own without close friends or family. They know all too well that it's possible to be lonely without ever being alone.  

This was never God's plan for his people. But we all to some extent have trouble forming relationships, whether it's with each other or with God. If you go back to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God put the original man and woman in a perfect, care-free existence called Eden. There were no job deadlines, traffic jams, illnesses or broken marriages. It was a place where God literally walked with his creation. But when the man and woman intentionally disobeyed God's instructions and sinned, things were never the same. Adam and Eve's eyes were opened and they realized the damage they had done. Then they tried to hide from their Creator. Their sin had built a wall between them and God.

Some things haven't changed over the centuries. In addition to running from our sins, we also run from relationships because of what others have done to us. We're determined to avoid being disappointed or hurt again. It's too easy to be let down. And it's much easier to flee.

The good news is that God has a two-fold solution to this problem. First, he re-established our relationship with him through his Son, Jesus. That means as Christ-followers, we're considered to be God's sons and daughters. And second, he built the Church, which is composed of all the Christ-followers around the world. It's a body of imperfect people like you and me who are all looking for the same thing: a safe place to rest from the world, heal our spiritual wounds and make life-long relationships.

Are you suffering in a spiritual solitary confinement? You're never alone through a life-giving relationship of faith in Jesus.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

By the Book

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

-- 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Can we really believe what's in the Bible? What makes it so reliable?

For Christ-followers, these two small questions have eternal consequences. But who really knows? After all, many people say that the Bible is too old to be relevant in the 21st Century. Skeptics doubt the possibility of all the miracles it reports. And still others assert that the Bible is no greater than the scriptures used by other religions.

With so many legitimate concerns out there, why should we trust the Bible?

First, the Bible claims to be God's Bibleword. But moreover it proves it with hundreds of prophesies (predictions) about events that actually happened decades or centuries later. For example, the Old Testament records in detail God's plan for saving mankind through a Messiah. The prophet Micah wrote that this Savior would be born--in of all places--an obscure village in the Middle East called Bethlehem. And as we read in the New Testament, Jesus indeed fulfilled these prophesies through his birth, ministry, death and resurrection. And he did so to the letter!

Historically and scientifically accurate, the Bible is also the most studied and critiqued book in history. Try as many have, no one has been able to disprove its claims. Luke, the physician who wrote the New Testament's Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, also wanted the real scoop. So he interviewed the people who knew Jesus best and could attest to his reality. Consider the opening lines of Luke's first book:

"Many people have tried to tell the story of what God has done among us. They wrote what we had been told by the ones who were there in the beginning and saw what happened. So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. ... I have done this to let you know the truth about what you have heard."

The Apostle Peter--someone who knew Jesus personally--also shared his own testimony:

"When we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling just clever stories that someone invented," he said. "But we saw the greatness of Jesus with our own eyes."

It all adds up to a mountain of convincing evidence that would stand up in court. So as Christ-followers seeking to grow in our faith, what should be our response to this awesome reality?

First, we should take time each day to read and memorize Scripture. After all, it's God's message to us that covers just about every facet of life. And of course, we also need to obey it--even if it doesn't make sense at the time. What's more, we should delight in it because we know it's the source of truth for our life. And this all leads to our final action: trust.

Yes, God's message to us through the Bible is reliable. And who better to confirm that than someone who believed it himself: Jesus. Luke's Gospel records that Christ even launched his public ministry by reading a passage from the Old Testament:

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news 
to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery
of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Saturday, October 8, 2016

See the Light

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").

-- Matthew 1:23

Electricity--and the bright lights it makes possible--is perhaps the one convenience that we most take for granted in our modern society. We simply flick a switch and there it is...until a storm rumbles through and plunges us into utter darkness. How did we ever function before today's Age of Enlightenment? For centuries, people used lamps that burned olive oil. Later, there were candles, whale oil lanterns and even coal gas lighting.

The search for something better took Light Bulbyears of tedious trial and error. Thomas Edison--the world-famous inventor--tried thousands of different materials for his incandescent light before he finally found one that wouldn't burn out in seconds. He eventually solved the dilemma in 1879 by placing a carbon filament in an airless bulb. A few months later, Edison improved his design by using a bamboo-derived filament that could last more than 1,200 hours. The rest, as they say, is history.

Edison's tireless quest for illumination was a bit like mankind's search for meaning and fulfillment in life. We all have a spiritual hunger that's hard-coded into our DNA. Some try in vain to fill this void through negative pursuits involving drugs, alcohol, compulsive spending or questionable relationships. Others cope by becoming workaholics or escaping reality through social media, video games or even travel. But after the thrill is gone, the dark emptiness always returns.

Whether we realize it or not, what we actually seek is our Creator. And to this Jesus responds, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." But many people find it hard to believe that Christ is the answer. After all, how can one person BE and DO all that? It sounds too good and simple to be true.

Jesus backed up the biblical claims of being Immanuel ("God with us") by fulfilling dozens of prophesies written centuries before his birth. There were the many miracles that he performed during his 3-year ministry on earth. And then there was his resurrection to life following his death on a cross, which paid mankind's debt for falling short of God's perfect standards. He healed the sick, restored sight to the blind and even raised the dead. But still, many people refused to believe. And that's still the case centuries later. But don't be too hard on Christ's modern-day skeptics. Even John the Baptist--the person Jesus called the greatest man ever born--had his doubts:

"Are you the one who was to come," John instructed his followers to ask, "or should we expect someone else?"

Jesus answered, "Go and tell John what you have heard and seen. The blind are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People with leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news. God will bless everyone who doesn't reject me because of what I do."

After much searching, Thomas Edison eventually found the solution for practical electric lighting. But it was centuries earlier that John the Baptist finally encountered The Light. And you and I can do the same today. It's by putting our faith in Jesus Christ that we can begin our journey with Immanuel: the one who truly is God among us.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Show Me the Way

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

-- Matthew 7:13

It was a tragic story that dominated the news and fueled the legend of the Kennedy Family curse. The world wanted to know what caused the 1999 plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife and her sister.

Conspiracy theorists pointed toward political operatives who would stop at nothing to keep Kennedy from entering national politics and upsetting the 2000 presidential election. One Way Sign2So-called witnesses claimed to have seen his Piper Saratoga explode in mid-air. But for many others, the tragedy was simply that: a tragic accident. They cited the young pilot's relative inexperience with instruments-only flying procedures. The weather was supposedly hazy at the time, with less-than-ideal visibility. The answer--they claimed--is that JFK, Jr. became disoriented during the flight and failed to trust his instruments. He instead decided to trust his instincts and literally flew his airplane into the ocean.

This scenario is quite plausible. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Kennedy lost control after his plane made a series of rapid turns and altitude changes as it approached the airport. Veteran flight instructor Ernie Carnahan says this disturbing aerial activity is known as a graveyard spiral.

Did JFK, Jr.'s self-reliance and refusal to believe the truth (the plane's instrument panel) result in disaster? If so, he wasn't a trendsetter. As King Solomon observed centuries ago in Proverbs, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

That's true for physical death. But it's also the case for spiritual death--a stern warning that Jesus reiterated to his followers and enemies alike. He understood 1st Century ideas about faith and spirituality, and how in many ways they would never change. The Roman Empire that governed Israel at the time was multicultural. And although the Jews worshiped the true God, the Romans and their other subjects worshiped multiple false, man-made deities. But if these so-called pagans were willing to worship Caesar as Lord, Rome would tolerate them.

Some things haven't changed after 2,000 years. For example, society embraces a multiculturalism that declares no faith above another. That familiar COEXIST bumper-sticker seemingly abounds in every parking lot. And whether you advocate Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism--it makes no difference--particularly if you're sincere in your faith. 

On the other hand, Christ-followers who dare to stand for Biblical principles are denounced as naive, bigoted and intolerant. And in Canada, Holland and other nations, citizens who've denounced the evils of Islam have been brought before special commissions for questioning and prosecution. The United Nations has even sought to adopt binding legislation against blasphemy--and certainly not to protect Jesus' good name!

Christ knew that mankind's self-reliance and pride would ultimately lead to destruction, death and separation from the Creator. But his solution was one of simplicity and reassurance: "I am the way and the truth and the life," he proclaimed. "No one comes to the Father except through me."

Was that an outrageous and intolerant claim? Only to those who refuse to believe that he is who he claimed to be. But to those who follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior, his stunning declaration is a road map showing the only way to truth and eternal life.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Greater Good

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

-- Matthew 6:34

The death of a family member. An unexpected job loss. A devastating natural disaster.

Who hasn't pondered why God allows tragedies, suffering and injustice? We reason that if he's all-powerful, he should prevent them. But let's consider that God's mysteries extend beyond our superficial human experience and into the immeasurable wonders of his creation. For example, can we comprehend how an awkward caterpillar gorges itself with leaves, spins a cocoon around itself and then emerges weeks later as a beautiful butterfly? And how can a tiny acorn grow into a mighty 80-foot oak?

The principle here is the same. Whether Butterfly2the unexplainable involves a tragedy or God's creation, we must remind ourselves that his ways aren't our ways. Moreover, our human minds are much too limited to grasp the entirety of his greater purposes.

But we're not totally in the dark here. God's word to us--the Bible--gives us several pointers. One is that we live in a flawed world where bad things can (and often do) happen. It was when Adam and Eve disobeyed their Creator in the Garden of Eden that Earth's perfection was spoiled. And it's only four chapters into Genesis that we read about mankind's first murder: a cold-blooded encounter between siblings.

Our own bad choices are another reason for suffering. For example, if someone chooses to drink too much, becomes intoxicated and then gets behind the wheel, tragedy often follows. But that's hardly God's fault. We instead reap the fruits of the foolishness we sow.

These facts are sobering, but the flip side is that we worship a God who specializes in turning bad into good. Consider someone who gets laid off from their job, only to find a much better opportunity in a different city--with higher pay--and in an industry that he or she had never previously considered. This happens all of the time in America. If it weren't for the "tragedy" of unemployment, he or she might have become stuck in a boring, dead-end job with little future. God (as always) know bests!

God also turns suffering into success by using it to discipline and mature us. Are we ever the same after experiencing a major illness or family tragedy? It's through adversity that we draw closer to him and depend on his help and presence. God can even use our suffering as a witness to others. If you're a Christ-follower faced with a God-sized situation, where you place your faith speaks volumes to others.

While suffering, tragedy and injustice are difficult realities of the human experience, our Creator never promised us a pain-free existence. In fact, Jesus even told his disciples to expect troubles in life. But let's take comfort that ours is a Big Picture God--One who sees beyond our limited scope to turn even the greatest tragedies into the greater good.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace," Jesus assures us through John's Gospel. "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."